This Week in Games: June 30, 2012

Lara has a new face, Activision-Blizzard can be yours for just $8.1 billion (well, 61 percent of it), the Wii U will be "reasonably" priced, and the 3DS is staying just the way it is. All this, and much more this week...


The Wii U will be on store shelves in about six months and one of the largest questions surrounding its launch remains unanswered: How much will it cost? In an interview with Japanese newspaper Yomiuri Shimbun, (translated by Andriasang), Nintendo CEO Satoru Iwata did not reveal a firm price for the console, due worldwide this holiday season, but said it will be sold at a "reasonable" rate. What do you think would be reasonable? Let us know in the comments.

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On the subject of "reasonable" pricing, retailers Amazon and GameStop are currently listing a range of Wii U titles--including Pikmin 3, New Super Mario Bros. U, Just Dance 4, and Lego City Undercover--for the absurdly expensive price of few pennies shy of $100, but these prices may not be accurate. In a statement sent to GameSpot, Nintendo said these prices are purely speculation. "Retailers are beginning their presale activity, but given there is no official software price, they are using fictitious prices," reads a line from the statement. "When software pricing is officially announced later this year, I am sure retailers will adjust their websites to reflect the true price." Let's hope so!

Nintendo president Satoru Iwata said the Mario factory currently has "no plans" in the near future for new models of the portable.

Elsewhere in the Nintendo camp, we also learned that the possibility of Nintendo manufacturing a new 3DS model beyond the 3DS XL is very slim. During a recent shareholder meeting (attended and translated by Andriasang), Iwata said the Mario factory currently has "no plans" in the near future for new models of the portable. This decision, he said, was based in part on an estimation that consumers would be "confused" if there were too many choices. Iwata also cited mass production efficiency concerns as a reason why Nintendo is not likely to release a new 3DS iteration. Speaking about the recently announced supersized 3DS XL, Iwata said this system was the result of a "great need" for a large screen. The 3DS XL is due out in North America on August 19 for $200 and in Europe three weeks earlier on July 28. The original DS was iterated on three times with the DS Lite, DSi, and DSi XL. Earlier this month, (and prior to the announcement of the 3DS XL), Nintendo designer Shigeru Miyamoto said a new 3DS model was "unlikely". He explained that more can be done with current 3DS hardware, as well as the 3D gaming sector in general.

What do you think? Is there a need for a "new" 3DS that includes all of the elements we've been craving? New form-factor, two analog sticks…anything else? Let us know in the comments.

New Lara, More Lara

Despite the upcoming Tomb Raider reboot being some eight months away, developer Crystal Dynamics is already talking about plans for Lara Croft's future. Speaking to Videogamer, global brand director Karl Stewart teased that 2013's Tomb Raider is only the beginning of Croft's journey. "You have to look at the future, you have to look at where…It's not just one game," Stewart said. "I have to be careful because I know exactly where she's going." Stewart explained that with 2013's Tomb Raider, the goal for Crystal Dynamics is to establish Lara Croft as a "strong female character that is willing to go out and seek out mysteries." To tell her entire origin story will require at least another game, he teased. "She's going to be going to plenty of tombs in this game, but we're going to have somebody who wants to go on that adventure, who wants to be the person that she now is," he said. "That's the goal."

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Since the early days of the franchise, a big part of the brand campaign for each game has involved the model or actress used to represent Lara in marketing materials, magazine cover-shoots, and live events like E3 and Comic-Con. Although played by Angeline Jolie in the movies, Lara had previously been represented by nine different models, including Rhona Mitra (who went on to have a moderately successful acting career in Boston Legal, Nip/Tuck, and Underworld: Rise of the Lycans,) and Nell McAndrew who was fired from the role after she exposed Ms. Croft's famous breasts in Playboy. Lara has also been voiced by four different actresses (five if you include Minnie Driver, who voiced her for the shortlived animated series) since 1996; original voice Shelley Blond, Judith Gibbins, Jonell Elliott, and Keeley Hawes, who you may have seen as the character Zoe Reynolds in the BBC TV show Spooks, released in North America as MI-5. This past week Crystal Dynamics revealed a different approach to the Lara "look" when it announced that English actress Camilla Luddington will be lending both her voice and likeness to the new game. Representatives for the studio said that her work would not be limited to voice-acting, confirming she would be taking on motion-capture duties as a "performance actress" as well. Luddington’s previous notable roles include Kate Middleton in the TV movie William & Kate and Lizzie in Showtime's TV series Californication. She also has a role in the future episodes of vampire drama True Blood.

This news came on the heels of controversial news that broke a couple of weeks ago concerning Lara as the victim of an attempted sexual assault in the new game. Orignally, speaking to Kotaku, Crystal Dynamics executive producer Ron Rosenberg said that during a particular scene Croft is "literally turned into a cornered animal" and forced to "fight back or die." Explaining further, he said that this scene represents a "huge step in [Croft's] evolution" and that the encounter was devised as a means to help bolster the strength of Tomb Raider's origin narrative. "We're not trying to be over the top; shock people for shock's sake," he said. "We're trying to tell a great origin story."

In case you weren't paying attention to all the press attention a week ago, this statement caused a significant stir, and got a lot of people talking about these kinds of themes in games. Nearly two weeks after the original Kotaku story, Crystal Dynamics studio head Darrell Gallagher released a statement on the matter. He explained that Rosenberg's comments to were "misunderstood," saying that "In making this Tomb Raider origins story, our aim was to take Lara Croft on an exploration of what makes her the character she embodies in later Tomb Raider games. One of the character-defining moments for Lara in the game, which has been incorrectly referred to as an 'attempted rape scene' is the content we showed at this year's E3. In this particular section, while there is a threatening undertone in the sequence and surrounding drama, it never goes any further than the scenes that we have already shown publicly. Sexual assault of any kind is not a theme that we cover in this game. We're sorry that this has not been better explained. We'll certainly be more careful with what is said in [the] future."

The Future is Free, According to Crytek

"I've believed for about a year now that as soon as tablets can stream on to TVs, then there's no reason why you should buy a console anymore. We're still pushing the tablet game market ourselves, and you'll see both casual and hardcore titles from us." - Cevat Yerli, Crytek

Crysis developer Crytek has offered a projection of where the console industry could be headed in the future. Company CEO Cevat Yerli told CVG that he believes free-to-play is the future, but at present, feels this is the minority belief. "Why are free-to-play online games not widespread on consoles? You should ask Microsoft and Sony this question," he said. "We see the future of consoles as free-to-play--ideally focussed on free-to-play. That's what I want to see in the future. But unfortunately not everybody shares this vision due to many other reasons." Yerli explained that Crytek was in discussions with Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo regarding a publishing deal for its new free-to-play shooter Warface, but these partnerships never came to fruition. According to Yerli, these companies depend on the retail business and are wary to go full-on digital. Yerli calls the tussle between digital and retail "the biggest issue in the industry right now."

"Hardware manufacturers are reliant on distribution and retail businesses, and those companies who are not reliant on third-party retail business such as Apple can go 100 percent digital," he continued. "They don't have the problem of retailers saying, 'I will not sell your hardware if you do not give me boxed games too'. That is the culprit of the problem." Yerli later said that he believes there is immediacy to the situation. He claimed next-generation tablet devices will boast technical power near current-generation hardware, making future consoles from Microsoft and Sony needed sooner rather than later. "I believe firmly that the next-generation of tablets are going to be close to current-generation consoles. So if the next-generation consoles don't ship very soon, the tablets are just going to run over them," he said. "That's very clear. I've believed for about a year now that as soon as tablets can stream on to TVs, then there's no reason why you should buy a console anymore. We're still pushing the tablet game market ourselves, and you'll see both casual and hardcore titles from us."

Incidentally, if you want to try some new (very good) free to play games, check out our new weekly column on the subject right here courtesy of GameSpot's executive editor, Justin Calvert.

Dawnguard Came Out This Week

Possibly the biggest event of the week for many of us; The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim - Dawnguard was released on Tuesday, bugs and all. If you've not had a chance to play it yet, Kevin VanOrd and Carolyn Petit played through the first few hours, and you can watch that right here, if you're so inclined.

Changes, Closures, More Changes

Far Cry 3 won't be out this September as previously planned. Ubisoft announced on Monday that the first-person shooter has been delayed to December 4 in the United States. A release in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa (EMEA) is scheduled for November 29. Ubisoft producer Dan Hay explained the company needs more time with Far Cry 3 before shipping it to retailers to make sure it delivers on quality. "We're taking more time to create the best possible gameplay experience," he said. "Far Cry 3 is a huge offering and we want every element of this insane, action-packed adventure to be of the highest possible quality for the players." Something he didn't mention; this moves it out of the way of 2K's highly anticipated Borderlands 2 which is also scheduled for September. Though very different thematically, both are first-person action games with a heavy emphasis on single-player and cooperative gameplay, and have a more role-playing style. Keeping them apart seems like a smart move.

After two years, LucasArts creative director Clint Hocking has left the Star Wars studio. In a terse post on his personal blog, Hocking wrote that he has found new work and is in the process of moving out of San Francisco. "I recently left my job at LucasArts and am moving on to something new," he said. "Unlike last time, (and mercifully less wordy) I already have something lined up and I am currently in the process of dealing with the living hell of relocation." Could this be a problem for the upcoming Star Wars: 1313? Or is it an indication that Hocking was working on something else, which is no longer getting the studio's support? No doubt more information will come out in the weeks ahead.

After more than two decades in business, Prototype 2 developer Radical Entertainment is sadly no more. The Activision studio's audio director Rob Bridgett posted a memoriam on Twitter, saying simply, "RIP Radical Entertainment 1991-2012." Activision first confirmed the news to Game Informer, with a representative saying, "Radical is a very talented studio and has been a great partner to Activision. Although we made a substantial investment in the Prototype IP, it did not find a broad commercial audience. Following an exploration of a wide range of options, it was determined that closing Radical Entertainment as a creative entity was the only option."

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Later, the company also provided a similar statement to GameSpot, but one that suggests the studio has not been outright closed. The publisher said, "Although we made a substantial investment in the Prototype IP, it did not find a broad commercial audience. Radical is a very talented team of developers, however, we have explored various options for the studio, including a potential sale of the business, and have made a difficult conclusion through the consultation process that the only remaining option is a significant reduction in staff. As such, some employees will remain working for Radical Entertainment supporting other existing Activision Publishing projects, but the studio will cease development of its own games going forward."

Vivendi wants to sell its 61 percent stake in the publisher [Activision-Blizzard], valued at $8.1 billion. If it can't find a single buyer, it will turn to the open market to unload those shares.

While all this was going on, we also got word that Telecom giant Vivendi is looking to offload its stake in Activision-Blizzard. According to the Bloomberg news service, Vivendi wants to sell its 61 percent stake in the publisher, valued at $8.1 billion. If it can't find a single buyer, it will turn to the open market to unload those shares. The sale was reportedly one of the topics discussed at an executive meeting last week. Despite Activision Blizzard's success with the Call of Duty series and World of Warcraft, Wedbush analyst Michael Pachter suggested Vivendi might not have many suitors for the game maker. "The problem is there are no readily apparent buyers for Activision," Pachter told Bloomberg. "The only option left to Vivendi is to lever up Activision's balance sheet and pay out all of its cash as a dividend, then spin the company off."

Meanwhile, over at Electronic Arts, Criterion Games--developer of the Burnout series of racing games--is now in the driver's seat of the Need for Speed franchise. Speaking to Game Informer magazine, Criterion vice president Alex Ward revealed the British developer will be involved with all upcoming Need for Speed games. "Our stamp's going to be in everything you see in Need for Speed and Burnout going forward in the future. It's not going to be spread anymore across different companies," he said. "Different studios have had a crack at it--it's definitely a Criterion gig now." Ward did not say if Criterion would develop all future Need for Speed franchise games or if it would only oversee development.

Sticking with EA while we close this out, it seems that Tuesday's free Extended Cut downloadable content for Mass Effect 3 will not be the final add-on for the sci-fi role-playing game. Producer Mike Gamble teased additional content for the game on Twitter, saying the developer is planning a lot more. "Would now be a good time to talk about how we're doing more DLC in the future? That was a trick question. We'll save the future DLC for future chats," he said. "Don't worry though…there's much more."

What did you think of the new content? Did the new stuff satisfy you? Let us know in the comments.

Quoted for Truth

Check out this week's episode of Quoted for Truth for more discussion of this week's news.


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